Reposted 02/17/11 with a special thank you to mam711 for beta-ing the chapter for me.
Diamonds Are Forever
Chapter 1 – Ashes and Wine
We're all prisoners in our own worlds, all captors of our own making.
The sun's just beginning to set down upon the New York cityscape as Neal Caffrey steps out of the car. The fading orange rays give way to a graying night, and Neal sucks in a deep breath while he stares up at the white bay-windowed building. The lavish and exclusive apartments located on 8602 2nd Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn are home to Sara Ellis.
In all the chaos of the day Neal managed slip away from the office before Peter could replace the electronic tracker to Neal's ankle. Seizing the opportunity, and with the FAA package still very much in the forefront of his mind, Neal thought he might chance a trip out of his two mile radius.
This is not the place he thought he'd end up again that night but he's here all the same.
Their pasts meant that the two had got off on the wrong foot. He'd enticed the young insurance investigator five years ago, and she'd repaid him in kind as she'd testified against him in his trial. She had been more than happy to see him behind bars.
Now as luck would have it, she's come into his life once again. She'd returned with every intention of recovering the stolen Raphael. She pretty much hated him and he hadn't felt any love lost for the ruthless woman.
But by a twist of fate they'd been thrown back together. It had taken an attempt on her life and her staying at the FBI's offices for them to grow closer. He'd found himself almost enjoying her company. They've begun a tentative acquaintance. He's not sure he can call it a friendship just yet. But she'd ended their day together by saving his life. And she didn't seem to hate him.
And now he's standing on the sidewalk, gazing up at the golden light of her window. He's holding the ingredients to make a homemade soup in his hands. He doesn't know truly what he's doing back here. He hopes idly that their shared joke will allow him entry into her home and evade her suspicions. He hopes that the real reason for visiting once again won't be too transparent.
He tells himself that he's here for one reason and one reason only. And it's the truth. He's here for Kate. He's there because he can't let her go. He's there because he needs to know the truth as to why the one woman he loved had to be taken from him. It's those answers he seeks that get him through the day now. And it's that quest that has brought him here.
He is determined to find whoever took Kate away.
He climbs the steps into the building and finds his way easily up to Apartment No.1. He raps the white wooden door with his knuckles and listens to the tapping of heels before she clicks the lock open.
"Neal Caffrey," Sara speaks with a mild sense of amusement and surprise. She answers the door wearing jeans and a stylish, designer top. She always looks immaculate even when she's having what is supposed to be a quiet night in.
"Good evening, Sara," he replies with a flash of his beaming, white smile.
"This is the second time this week that you've shown up at my apartment at night and unannounced."
Neal smirks back. "Well at least this time you're not pointing a gun at my face."
She returns a wan grin. "What are you doing here?"
"I brought you something." He motions down at the brown bags he has cradled in his hands. "I thought I could make you that soup. And we could maybe celebrate you coming back from the dead."
She raises one perfectly sculpted eyebrow and stares at him quizzically, but she says nothing.
"Come on- my cooking has to be better than snacks from the office's vending machines."
She almost can't believe that this man wants to cook for her. Up until very recently she wouldn't have even thought to invite Neal Caffrey into her home but she invites him in nonetheless.
"Here, let me help you with some of those." She reaches to take one of his grocery bags before she leads him into a spacious and pristine kitchen.
"Wow, nice place you've got here." He settles his brown paper bags and begins to retrieve the vegetables and stock from them.
"Thank you." She throws him another look of curiosity as she supplies him with chopping boards and a knife.
"How's your wine selection?" he asks.
"I prefer scotch," she utters simply.
Neal smirks at her response. She's probably the first woman he's known in a long while who favors hard liquor. He brandishes a bottle of rare, vintage Burgundy from the bag, the one that Mozzie hasn't managed to find.
"I'll get some glasses," Sara says with a little kink of her eyebrow to indicate she's impressed with his choice.
She takes the bottle from him and taps over to the drawers to pull out the bottle opener. She unscrews and pulls out the cork, before pouring them both a drink. She returns and sets his glass aside while he begins to cut up his ingredients. Her eyes fall to his skilled chopping and she tastes the first sip of the crisp, refined alcohol.
"You certainly know your way around the kitchen, Caffrey."
"I've had a lot of practice." He dices the onion quickly and expertly. He then lights a pan over the stove and throws the onion in, along with a knob of butter.
"Cooking for women?"
"Not exactly." He begins to cut and toss in the rest of the vegetables. She takes another sip of wine as she watches him.
"This is pretty good soup," she says as they sit together at her dining table bathed in candlelight.
At her compliment he returns a large, knowing smirk. "Don't sound so surprised. I told you that I made a mean soup."
She smiles absent-mindedly; he could still be charming when he wanted to be.
"Do you still play?" He directs his head towards the large wooden instrument perched in the dim corner of the living area. He recalls how the two of them had first met at a recital held at Carnegie Hall. She'd been quite the talented cellist and she'd captured his eye even before he'd known who she was.
Her hazel eyes move to the object in question, the antique cello. "No, I don't play as much."
"That's a shame. You were good." He guesses she's filled up her days with work only.
Sara brushes the silken dark locks from her face but doesn't offer another word on the subject.
Neal swallows his final mouthful of broth before he decides to change tack. "So how does it feel to have your life back?"
"Good," her long fingers wrap back around the stem of her wine glass. "I'll be back at work tomorrow and everything will return back to normal."
She doesn't sound as convincing as she normally does. That strength and certainty is missing from her tone of voice. It reminds him of their makeshift meal on top of the FBI's roof where she'd been angry that her 'passing' hadn't made the world stop and so much of noticed that she was gone.
"Normal's good though, right?" he probes lightly and she avoids his gaze. "Least you don't have to breathe in that stale air."
"Right. Of course. Everything spirals back on as normal." She takes a measured sip of wine. She thinks back to her talk with Peter, to how she's been feeling since faking her own death. She's a workaholic and she knows it. It's only recent events that have left her questioning whether she's truly happy with her choices.
"I guess it's hard to come back after you've realized there's no one left in your life to miss you and to care," Neal says.
He thinks he's referring to the parents she's admitted she's lost, to the family he knows she doesn't have. But now with those words out there in the dining room, all he can think of is Kate. He tries to focus all his energies into investigating her death in order to combat his grief. But sometimes that grief wins and gets the better of him.
"Neal?" Sara stirs him from those dark thoughts by calling him by his first name.
He responds only by taking a large gulp of alcohol and it trickles down his throat bitterly.
"Did you lose someone?" she asks.
She directs the question at him, but her fingers play absentmindedly with the diamond pendant around her neck. He remembers he's never not seen her wearing it. She wore it the first time they ever met at the concert hall. She'd worn it when she testified against him five years ago. And she'd worn it that night he'd come to kill her.
He furrows his brow; he doesn't want to get into the subject. That's after all the very reason as to why he's there with her tonight; to find out answers to so many of his niggling questions.
Her eyes are fixed on him. He sees the shadows of recognition.
"Who did you lose?" he mutters.
The atmosphere between them tenses and he sadly marvels at the fact that he, the con artist, and the white collar bounty hunter may have more in common than he would have ever thought possible.
She sets down her soup spoon and he reaches for his glass of Burgundy. Neither wants to have this conversation, certainly not with each other.
"Would you excuse me?" Sara pulls herself up from the plush dining room chair not waiting for his answer. Her heels clack on the wooden flooring, and carry her down the corridor and out of his sight.
As she leaves to use the bathroom, he pulls himself up from the chair and makes his way over to her desk. She still has her pile of mail stacked high. He notes that she's opened the ones that she deemed important, while the others remain intact.
He hears movement from the room down the hall and he quickens his search. He needs the package this time. He flicks the brown and white packets with a quickening pace.
Neal's form stiffens. His fingers secure themselves around the large brown package that he's been searching for and he groans inwardly. She's caught him red handed. 'Perfect timing' springs to mind.
"What are you doing?" she asks as he remains silent and hunched over her stack of envelopes. She's reminded all over again of who he is. He's been in prison and she cannot trust him.
Her keen eyes trail from his eyes to what he's touching at with the tips of his fingers. She frowns, her gaze travels back to meet his surprised gaze. He's a known thief no matter how much he protests otherwise; it irritates her that he seems to have reverted to form. He's confirmed her belief that he was once a con man and may very well always be a con man.
"What do you want from me?" She's demanding answers from him now. She curses herself for believing she could trust him. He'd begun to fool her all over again.
He holds up the still-unopened pack sent from the FAA. Honesty has never been his first method but maybe it would work better here with this woman. "I need something from you."
Her hands come to rest firmly on her hips before she speaks. "Start talking, Caffrey."